Clavier Companion - May/June 2015 - 47
Let's pretend that I'm your piano student. Walk me
through some of these challenges, starting with the
If we look at the prelude, we see that it alternates regularly between high and low registers. This requires an
appropriate (and comfortable) body rhythm, swinging
back and forth. One consequence of this constant shifting is that this prelude is easier to play by heart than with
the music: interrupting the rhythmic back-and-forth to
search the score easily disrupts the body rhythm.
We often see pianists swaying in performance, yet
many attribute that motion to artistic quirkiness. It
seems, however, that this movement serves a practical
purpose: moving the body provides a physical correlate to memory. Is that what you mean?
Many pianists find that (appropriate) body rhythm-
physical movement in phase with the music-makes
it easier to play well. The hard part is knowing which
movements are appropriate for which music! The pianist's joints need to be supple, and these movements
have to direct energy where it is needed, when it is
needed. If the performer feels the rhythm deeply in his
body, it helps both memory and physical ease, and it
augments the player's control.
And how about the fugue? Is there a methodical way
in which a young pianist can approach this music?
At first, this fugue should be practiced one voice at a time.
Things get much harder when both legato and staccato
are present in the same hand at the same time-even more
so since the distribution of the middle voice between the
hands is always changing. I would then practice the outer
voices alone, as well as the various two-voice combinations (e.g., bass + middle). Only after these steps should
all voices be played together.
fugue." Any form has certain conventions, that,
properly understood, provide coherence. Those
same conventions can also be played with. In my
second fugue, for example, I end with a "de-exposition," losing one voice at a time to come back to
a much simpler, less contrapuntal texture. I wanted a rather poignant ending, and this fit the bill.
In the end, if a piece of music reaches us on
an emotional level, and if it remains interesting
through multiple hearings, I really don't see why
starting from one convention or another is, in
itself, good or bad. As I often say to my students,
a fugue is first and foremost a composition, and
it stands or falls like any other composition. Do
performers want to play it? Do listeners want to
hear it? That's what matters most.p
Alan Belkin received his D.M.A.
from the Juilliard School, where
he studied under Elliott Carter
and David Diamond. His output
includes eight symphonies, a wide
variety of chamber music, and
several works for solo piano. Belkin
currently serves as a Professor of Composition at
the Université de Montréal. For more info, visit
Andrew Schartmann holds
degrees in music from Yale and
McGill University. He is the author
of Koji Kondo's Super Mario Bros.
Soundtrack (Bloomsbury, 2015)
and writes extensively for Music
& Vision magazine. He currently
serves as the assistant editor of DSCH Journal-a
publication devoted to Dmitri Shostakovich.
To conclude, let's return to the relevance of the prelude & fugue in
the twenty-first century. It seems
obvious now how the genre can
help a pianist develop his technique. But what remains for the
composer? In other words, have
composers exhausted the prelude
& fugue, or is there more to be
done with it?
I'm uneasy with blanket statements
like "exhausted the prelude and